BY TOM WILLSON
One day during a Friday community lunch for our friends in the neighborhood, a lady came to YWAM to request a service. During that particular moment, it wasn’t something I could agree to while running the lunch ministry. After letting her know this, she became increasingly insistent and irritated at my firm but fair denial of her demands. She eventually shouted insults and obscenities at me as she stormed off.
Somewhat discouraged and exasperated by the encounter, I tried to shrug it off as ‘just another negative incident one must put up with whilst living and working in the Tenderloin’. But these experiences often have a habit of clinging onto our consciences and adversely influencing our ministry perspective.
So imagine my great unease the following week when I saw that same lady participate in the very lunch ministry which she had disrupted one week earlier. Replaying the encounter in my head, I initially wondered how I should reprimand her for her remonstration the week before. Should I exert my authority and eject her to make an example of her previously disrespectful attitude?
We live in a climate where, mistakenly, we think the loudest voice wins so we drown out any opposition, listening is viewed as a sign of surrendering to the other side, and apologizing is considered the last resort of a desperate flounderer. To shout is better than to listen. To shame is better than to forgive. To make an excuse is better than an apology.
Graciously, God held me back a moment. I observed the peace in the room as people enjoyed the simple meal and delighted in conversation. This lady, not currently engaged in the gentle chatter, seemed to be quietly taking a moment to absorb the refreshing ambiance like a child smelling a rose for the first time. She spotted me and approached with a calm and remorseful look. I was somewhat apprehensive about the outcome of a new encounter with the woman. I was so shocked by what came out of her mouth at the moment that I can’t exactly recall her words, but they were something along the lines of, “I’m sorry for my behavior last week. That was wrong of me. Please forgive me.”
Many a time have I tried to absorb, deflect or defend myself from negative encounters on the streets of the Tenderloin. In the face of snide provocation, the street convention is routine to be drawn into a tit-for-tat battle where imbecilic words are blunted swords with the objective of slaying your opponent into apathy or exhausting them with superior rhetorical stamina. People often exert power in many disparaging ways. But when this lady said ‘sorry’, it employed a power far stronger and far beyond the petty ‘strength’ of the abusive language she had previously used, and which is commonly wielded on our neighborhood streets. Honest vulnerability has power much like a small spark has the potential to blast a rocket into space. Through her vulnerable apology she destroyed the enmity between us and replaced it with peace, she honored and uplifted me by admitting her fault, and she venerated herself of her shame.
For us to be vulnerable is akin to a besieged castle lowering the drawbridge and raising the main gate, opening ourselves up to potential assault or reconciliation. Jesus, Son of our Almighty triune God, cloaked himself in humanity, even to the point of being a vulnerable baby, entrusted to humankind to cradle his small body and support his fragile head. His open invitation is one of peace, and although the world rejected him and attempted to storm his stronghold with injury, he cannot be usurped from his throne.
Jesus will be the Good King for those who accept his rightful authority when we approach him with the vulnerability of children; having an open, repentant heart, and a spirit of peace.
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” - Matthew 19:14